From Russia … With Golf
Anastasia Kostina Major Part Of Suddenly Emerging Country In Game
By David Shefter, USGA
Roswell, Ga. – It might not be getting the worldwide exposure it would have had if it became an official Olympic sport, but the game of golf is certainly being played these days in a lot of non-traditional countries.
Witness the 2005 U.S. Open, where a competitor qualified from the South Pacific Rim island of New Caledonia (Pierre-Henri Soero). Witness the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open where a Futures Tour player from the Czech Republic (Jana Peterkova) made the field. Witness the field at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur this week at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Course, which features 33 foreign-born golfers from 16 different countries, including Peru, Venezuela, Germany and Russia.
Yes, Russia. A country best known for ice hockey and figure skating, among other Olympic sporting disciplines, is starting to produce golfers even though the nation currently has a total of 27 holes of “championship” golf.
Anastasia Kostina might be the first competitor from Russia to play in the Women’s Amateur, but she likely won’t be the last.
Look at what has happened in tennis. Russian women won three of the four Grand Slam titles in 2004, with Anastasia Myskina (French Open), Maria Sharapova (Wimbledon) and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The professional women’s tennis tour is now populated with young Russian talent. Then again, finding a tennis court in Russia or its neighboring satellite countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, etc.) is a bit easier than locating 18 holes of golf.
“We only have 27 holes and one 18-hole course,” said the 20-year-old Kostina, who hails from the Moscow suburb of Nakhabino and will be a senior this fall at Washington State University, where she earned honorable-mention All-America honors in 2004-05. “There are six holes in St. Petersburg, but it is a par-3 course.”
But more courses are coming and that will only boost interest in the sport. Kostina said six more venues are under construction around the Moscow area, which should alleviate the overcrowding at the city’s only course.
When the Moscow Country Club, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, opened in 1991, the course began a junior academy to induce young people to play and Kostina and her older sister, Maria, signed up. In a few short years, Anastasia was one of the country’s best players. Soon she found herself on the National Team, traveling throughout Europe and the rest of the world for major competitions.
She was invited to play in the 2002 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Malaysia, where the squad placed 33rd out of 39 teams. Two years later in Puerto Rico, she led the Russian squad to a tie for 11th, its best finish ever, and Kostina tied for seventh individually to earn an exemption into the 2005 Women’s Amateur. The low eight non-American scorers are given exemptions to the next Women’s Amateur.
“It was a really big deal for us,” said Kostina, who posted a 5-over-par 77 in Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying. She was two over through 16 holes, but found the hazard on eight (her 17th hole of the day) and three-putted nine to conclude the round.
“[Golf] is getting popular. It’s not [huge] compared to the United States or anything. It’s kind of hard to be popular when you only have one course. As soon as they build [these other courses], I think golf will be much more popular.”
From Moscow to Moscow
The climate in Pullman, Wash., might not be conducive to year-round golf, but then again, Kostina only had a five-month season back in Russia. How she went from Moscow to Moscow (Pullman is just a stone’s throw from Moscow, Idaho) is a story in itself.
Kostina’s sister had come to the U.S. with the Russian National Team and Washington State women’s golf coach Walt Williams had an acquaintance who knew someone affiliated with the team. Williams first recruited Maria Kostina and a year later he landed Anastasia. For lack of a better term, it was like finding a couple of diamonds in the rough.
If anything, the weather in eastern Washington was somewhat comparable to that of Moscow.
“Surprised and shocked,” said Washington State golfer Kim Welch upon learning the team was getting a Russian golfer. “I didn’t know there were golf courses in Russia. You just think of Russia and think of winter year round.
“They were entertaining and we always made fun of their accents.”
It didn’t take long for the team to realize they had a couple of impact players. Anastasia, in particular, thrived in the college setting. As a sophomore in 2003-04 she tied for sixth in her Washington State debut at the Northwest Invitational. In the spring, she finished in the top 25 in five of her six competitions, including a tie for fifth at the Oregon Duck Invitational and a T-6 at the Peg Barnard Collegiate.
This past season, she became just the second WSU golfer – man or woman – to be named an All-American. She placed among the top 11 in the Cougars’ first 10 tournaments, but the team just missed out on qualifying for the NCAA Division I Championship in Sunriver, Ore.
“She has a tremendous work ethic,” WSU coach Williams told the Daily Evergreen. “She’s not only out on the golf course every day, but she works out in the weight room.”
You can see that on the golf course. Her swing is powerful and athletic, but she also has dexterity around the greens. On Monday, she got up and down for a double-bogey 6 on eight with a gorgeous wedge shot from the rough behind the green.
“I have improved a lot since I got here,” said Kostina, who works with an Idaho pro named Randy Henry. “I have a coach who is real good and I am playing lots of different courses. I can’t play as many different courses back home.”
Said Welch: “Her short game is awesome and she is long. She is just composed on the golf course. She is not a hothead. She just knows how to keep her mind in check.”
Kostina has enjoyed plenty of success outside of the U.S. amateur circuit as well. She placed among the top 12 the past four years at the European Ladies Team Championships. She also finished third among women under 18 at the 2002 Ladies’ British Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship. Ironically, she has yet to win her country’s amateur, having been the runner-up in 2000, 2002 and 2004. She was third in 2001.
And with the 2006 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship set for next October in South Africa, you can bet Kostina will be on Russia’s short list as long as she hasn’t joined the professional ranks by that time.
That is her goal, to someday make it on the pro tour. Currently, Uliana Rotmistrova, who now lives in Latvia but was born in Moscow, is the lone Russian pro on the Ladies European Tour. No Russian women play on the LPGA Tour nor do any play on the PGA or Nationwide tours.
“If you look hard enough and if you know the right people, you can find them,” said Welch, who graduated from WSU this past spring.
So don’t be surprised someday if the LPGA Tour adds another country to its long list of international competitors. Remember, there was a time not too long ago when Koreans didn’t dot the LPGA landscape and now that country can boast the last two major championship winners: Birdie Kim at the U.S. Women’s Open, and Jeong Jang at the Women’s British Open. The country also has produced the last two USGA women’s amateur event champions: Eung Jung Lee at the Women’s Amateur Public Links and In-Kyung Kim at the Girls’ Junior.
Talent is everywhere and it can only benefit golf.
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.
U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship
TICKETS – Admission and parking for all seven days of the championship are free of charge.
WHO CAN PLAY? – The U.S. Women’s Amateur is open to female amateurs who have USGA Handicap Indexes not exceeding 5.4. Entries closed June 15.
DEFENDING CHAMPION – Jane Park, 18, or Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., will defend the title she won in 2004.
THE FIELD – The 2005 field will include seven Georgia players. They are Laura Coble of Augusta, Jackie Beers of Bonaire, Alina Lee of Evans, Kyu Ri Ban of Duluth, Dori Carter of Valdosta, Diana Ramage of Fayetteville and Margaret Shirley of Roswell.
TELEVISION COVERAGE – Match-play rounds will be telecast on The Golf Channel Aug. 3-7 from 4-6 p.m., EDT.
OTHER PROMINENT PAST CHAMPIONS – Patty Berg, 1938; Betty Jameson, 1939, 1940; Babe Didrickson Zaharias, 1946; Louise Suggs, 1947; Beth Daniel, 1975, 1977; Juli Simpson (Inkster), 1980, 1981, 1982; Pat Hurst, 1990; Kelli Kuehne, 1995, 1996; Grace Park, 1998; Dorothy Delasin, 1999.
CHAMPIONSHIP COURSE CONDITIONS – The following mowing heights will be used for the championship: fairways 1/2"; tees 7/16"; collars 1/4". Putting greens will be prepared so that they are firm and fast; to measure approximately 11 feet on the USGA Stimpmeter. Intermediate rough: 1", width approximately 72" along fairways, width approximately 30" wide around putting greens. Primary rough: 2 1/4".
FUTURE WOMEN’S AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP SITES – The 2006 U. S. Women’s Amateur will be conducted at Pumpkin Ridge G.C., North Plains, Ore., Aug. 7 – 13.
MEDIA CONTACT – The Media Center for the U.S. Women’s Amateur will be located in the main clubhouse at Ansley Golf Club. Rhonda Glenn and Beth Murrison will be the USGA staff members on site. The Media Center phone numbers are (678)639-7488 and (678)639-7494.